How to know your customer — on a budget

As a young copywriter, I didn’t understand the importance of research. As an agency partner, I learned to love the research — provided I could do it myself. Creative teams exist to make an emotional connection. We must understand the customer’s emotional needs as well as their practical needs. How else can we frame the communication?

Blueprint for knowing your customer

Of course you need to know customers’ practical needs. But to make a real connection, you need to understand the underlying emotions.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to gain valuable insights. You do need to commit the time and effort. 

When studying the customer, here’s what I want to know.

  • If it’s business-to-business, how many companies are there? What segments do they represent? What are the company names? (“Total available market” kind of stuff.)
  • Who are the internal and external influencers? (Regulators, business partners, distributors, buyers, analysts, others.) Can we get their actual names? 
  • Who are the people we deal with within the companies? What are their positions? Can we get their actual names?
  • What are those people like? Can we generalize about their education level, attitudes, interests, age, lifestyle?
  • Will they talk to us? (A lot of them will give you the most valuable input you can imagine, for the cost of a phone call.)
  • What do they think of our competition?
  • What are their practical needs, such as features, price and distribution?
  • What features influence them before the sale?
  • What features influence them after the sale? 
  • What emotions affect them? Their fears, hopes, desires, frustrations, concerns? For B2B, how do they feel about anything their job entails?  For consumer goods, what emotions apply to the purchase? 
  • After addressing the questions above, in what ways do we think we can influence these people? What kind of messages will they find compelling?

With these questions, we identify who they are. We identify their practical needs. And we identify the emotions at work.

Emotions are usually the hardest part of the equation and identifying them takes some practice. But it’s crucial because even in B2B, most decisions are made emotionally first, then rationalized later. 

Some examples of emotions:

  • Fear of loss: “I fear losing my job.”
  • Want attention: “I desire recognition by my peers.”
  • Frustration: “I hate and am confused by paying this much for insurance.” 
  • Greed: “I delight in eating at nice restaurants on my boss’ dime.” 
  • Fear of the unknown: “I need assurance when I hire a new vendor.” 
  • Insecurity: “I hate the pressure of dealing with salespeople.” 
  • Delight: “I love learning.” 
  • Self-esteem: “I love knowing more than my colleagues.” 
  • Jealousy: “I’m jealous of others’ success.” 
  • Guilt: “I feel feel terrible when I see how much we waste.” 
  • Self-esteem: “New shoes always make me feel better.”

To get into the swing of identifying emotions, read this list of emotions on Wikipedia.

Why is all this so hard for organizations?

One reason I see over and over: Many managers think they already know everything they need to know about their customers. They don’t believe the extra effort is worth the trouble.  As a result, CEOs, marketing directors or agency creative directors don’t commit to the relatively easy, but time-consuming work of qualitative research. Assumptions are so much more convenient than uncovering real insight. 

As proof, see home page after home page, ad after ad, that do nothing to delight, inspire, compel or otherwise create a connection.

The truth is, the customer is not static — he’s a moving target, influenced by the competition, technology and societal forces you can’t control. Many companies, especially in technology businesses, simply don’t have the boots on the ground, interacting daily with customers, to know their customers intimately. Your prospective “he” could be a “she”, could have more or less purchasing authority than you thought, and English isn’t necessarily her first language. She could have important issues not faintly related to your assumptions. 

On the creative side, nothing beats talking to a good cross-section of customers. It’s amazing what they’ll tell you that they won’t tell the client. You need to learn what they feel and how you can tap into it. If you’re a creative director, don’t leave leave research to the research department. You’ll see the payoff in more powerful and compelling creative. 

– Barrett Rossie

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About Barrett Rossie @barrettrossie

Marketing manager that specializes in developing strategic messages that set brands apart, and bring their competitive position, benefits and brand personality to life. Visit me at http://barrettrossie.com View all posts by Barrett Rossie @barrettrossie

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